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New cardiac service at Cookeville Regional means better treatment for many patients

Monday, Aug 1, 2011

Dr. Mark Wathan, right, talks with Mended Hearts volunteer Dennis Guzlas during the open house for the EP Lab at Cookeville Regional. This will be the first chapter of Mended Hearts in the nation whose members will be visiting EP Lab patients. (Photo by Greg Little)

It opened with a lot of fanfare, and for good reason.

The new Electrophysiology Lab at Cookeville Regional Medical Center is now open.

“This is a much-needed service that helps maintain the quality of life,” said Mitch Stonecipher, director of the cath and EP labs at the medical center.

The new lab cost $5 million to construct.

The idea of having such state-of-the-art equipment has been in the works for a long time. In fact, it was 20 years ago when the concept of having a major cardiac program began at Cookeville Regional. Since that time, the department has grown and helped thousands of patients over the years.

With this new service, even more patients will be able to get good care — right here in the Upper Cumberland.

Stonecipher said the “main element” which was missing was EP capabilities. Last year, hospital officials made the decision to move forward with that phase of the project. In doing so, they brought Dr. Mark Wathan to the medical center. Wathan is one of the most respected cardiology physicians in the country.

Stonecipher said the hospital board “accepted the challenge” of expanding its services to offer the EP unit, which gives physicians a precise view of the heart and allows for accurate and timely diagnosis of problems.

He also said not only do Cookeville Regional officials want the EP center to be a quality program, the goal is a “center of excellence.” That means it’s one of the finest in the country and can be a “show site” for officials from other facilities as well as medical students.

Electrophysiology is the study of the rhythm of hearts, which can mean a fast or slow heartbeat. That determination is crucial when it comes to mapping a treatment plan for patients.

Stonecipher said deciphering that information is crucial and now the EP lab in Cookeville can get that accomplished as well as any other facility in the world.

He said it allows doctors to “map the heart” and find out “where the issue lies.”

They can do that through CT scans, 3D mapping and other tools now at their fingertips. The new facility also has extensive monitoring equipment where doctors and other medical personnel can take advantage of the technology when making medical determinations.

“They know precisely where it (the abnormal rhythm) is being generated from,” he said. ‘It can get very detailed.”

What it means for some patients, he said, is they can return to a more normal quality of life faster, and “it can all be done here.”

For Stonecipher, that’s the most important point when it comes to the new service at Cookeville Regional. He’s been in cardiac services for the past 16 years.

“It allows us to treat our families, our friends and our community,” he said. “It is so rewarding to see patients go home and to be able to do things they would not have been able to do before.”

He called the new lab a “much needed service that helps maintain the quality of life.”

Stonecipher also had high praise for the staff, saying they have all been integral in getting this new program in place and running.

The new lab is located in the north tower at the hospital and they already have plans in place to add a second room once another cardiologist comes on board in the near future.

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